Managing workplace temperature
This section outlines your responsibilities as an employer, and suggests some ways you can manage the temperature in your workplace for the ‘thermal comfort’ of your employees. Thermal comfort describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold. How you manage the effects of temperature of your workplace depends on whether it is indoors or outdoors and the normal operating temperature of that environment.
You should provide:
- a reasonable working temperature in workrooms – usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws require lower temperatures)
- local heating or cooling (ie making best use of fans, opening windows, using radiators) where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom (eg hot and cold manufacturing processes)
- thermal clothing and rest facilities where necessary, eg for ‘hot work’ or cold stores
- heating systems which do not give off dangerous or offensive levels of fume into the workplace
- sufficient space in workrooms
When people are too hot
You can help ensure thermal comfort in warm conditions by:
- providing fans, eg desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans
- ensuring that windows can be opened
- shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or by using reflective film on windows to reduce the heating effects of the sun
- siting workstations away from direct sunlight or other situations or objects that that radiate heat (eg plant or machinery)
- relaxing formal dress code – but you must ensure that personal protective equipment is provided and used if required
- allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down
- providing additional facilities, eg cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks)
- introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, eg flexible working patterns, job rotation, workstation rotation etc
- placing insulating materials around hot plant and pipes
- providing air-cooling or air-conditioning plant
When people are too cold
You can help ensure thermal comfort when working in the cold by:
- providing adequate workplace heating, eg portable heaters
- reducing cold exposure by designing processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products where possible
- reducing draughts
- providing insulating floor coverings or special footwear when employees have to stand for long periods on cold floors
- providing appropriate protective clothing for cold environments
- introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, eg flexible working patterns, job rotation
- providing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas
PPE and thermal comfort
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is considered to be a ‘last resort’ to protect employees from the hazards in the workplace (PPE Regulations 1992).
PPE reduces the body’s ability to evaporate sweat. Additionally, if the PPE is cumbersome or heavy it may contribute to an increase in the heat being generated inside the body.
Wearing PPE in warm/hot environments and/or with high work rates may increase the risk of heat stress.
Removal of PPE after exposure (and where necessary allowing it to dry out or replace with dry PPE before permitting re-entry) will prevent any heat retained in the clothing from continuing to heat the employee.
PPE may prevent the wearer from adapting to their environment by removing clothing because to do so would expose them to the hazard that the PPE is intended to protect them from. Ensure that people wear their PPE correctly (eg they do not undo fasteners to increase air movement into the garment) and thereby expose themselves to the primary hazard.
Very high or low workplace temperatures
If thermal discomfort is a risk, and your employees are complaining and/or reporting illnesses that may be caused by the thermal environment, then you should review the situation and if necessary implement appropriate controls to manage the risks:
- the thermal conditions may need to be monitored and where possible recorded as part of your risk management programme
- health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff who have special requirements due to pregnancy, certain illnesses, disabilities and/or maybe taking medication. This is particularly relevant when working in temperature extremes. Medical advice should be sought if necessary
- working habits and current practices need to be reviewed periodically and (where necessary) changed, to control the risks
- Thermal comfort check list
- Workplace health safety and welfare; A brief guide
- Risk assessment: A brief guide to controlling risk in the workplace
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) at work: A brief guide